With the Punjab government fixing June 10 as the date to commence transplanting of paddy,harried farmers are spending nights at the states main railway junctions like Rajpura and Ludhiana to woo migrant labour coming on trains from Bihar.
We have no other option… Earlier this process (the transplanting of paddy) was staggered so the availability of labour was also quite flexible. Now all the farmers want labour at the same time,which makes this shortage hugely acute. Then many of these labourers say they can now get equally renumerative work back in their native state,which lessens the charm of coming to Punjab, says Amrik Singh,who has been camping in at small hotel just outside the Ludhiana station for four days now,along with Jasbir and Satbir Singh.
With folded hands,Jasbir Singh crouches next to a sleepy migrant. The sarpanch of village Badwala in Tarn Taran is using all his charm to get this group of young men to work in his fields. Chal na yaar,tumhari bahut zaroorat hai (Please come,you are badly needed), pleads Jasbir. The migrant youth who have landed in the wee morning hours are not interested.
The state government has fixed the date for the paddy transplantation to approximately coincide with the arrival of monsoon. As a lot of water is needed for the exercise,the water table gets depleted if farmers start too early.
The routine of the Punjab farmers is fixed. The trains that come from Bihar reach Ludhiana either very late in the night or very early in the morning. So we come here at about two in the night and stay till seven in the morning, says Satbir.
One of the most sought after trains at Rajpura,the first railway junction in Punjab for trains coming from the east,is the Jansewa Express. It reaches Rajpura at about 1.30 pm.
Some smart farmers strike deals with lambardars in advance to arrange men to work in their fields. A lambardar is the head of a group of migrant labourers who strikes all the deals on their behalf.
Bhutta,one such lambardar,explains: We have been coming to Punjab for nearly a decade now. We come in the first week of June and our return tickets are already reserved for July 10,when we will head home. Our experience has taught us that it is better to work for farmers whom we know than be lured and work for a relatively new person.
This year,he says,they are looking for Rs 1,850 per acre (Rs 300 per acre higher than last year) for sowing the transplanted paddy. Apart from this,food and lodging are the responsibility of the farmer who hires them.
Raj Kishore,from Sitamarhi,says he has been coming to Punjab since the days they were paid Rs 20 to Rs 25 per acre. I have stayed here during militancy,when Indira Gandhi was killed and even when Rajiv died. We never faced any problem. But yes,times have changed. Not many men from my village now want to come to Punjab.
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